Failure to be politically correct can have dire consequences — even for the NDP. It should come as no surprise then, that BC Minister of Post-Secondary Education Selina Robinson was forced to give up her cabinet post over politically incorrect comments about the history of Israel critics say “perpetuates harmful colonial narratives that ignore the history of Palestinian people in the region.”During a January 30 Zoom online panel hosted by B’nai Brith, an independent Jewish human rights organization, Robinson, the highest ranking Jewish politician in BC., said 18-to 34-year-olds “have no idea about the Holocaust, they don’t even think it happened.” The discussion can be viewed here.She added that Israel was offered to Jews who were misplaced and displaced from their homes: “They don’t understand that it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it. You know, there were several hundred thousand people but other than that, it didn’t produce an economy. It couldn’t grow things it didn’t have anything on it and that it was the folks that were displaced that came and had been living there for generations and together they worked hard and they had their own battles.”Laith Sarhan, a Vancouver-based Palestinian Canadian lawyer, quickly retorted he was “astonished” and “shocked” by Robinson’s comments and believed she should be removed from Premier David Eby’s cabinet.Her comments, Sarhan said, “endorse the idea that Israel was created on terra nullius, a Latin expression essentially meaning nobody’s land. It ignores the fact that the Holy Land of Palestine “has been continuously inhabited as a fertile cradle of civilization for thousands of years.”Robinson was also attacked on Twitter ("X") by Charlie Angus, a federal NDP MP, who claimed Robinson had shown “an appalling disregard for the horrific violence being inflicted on Palestinians.”“Their homeland wasn’t ‘a crappy piece of land with nothing on it,’” Angus also wrote. “People lived on it. Families lived on it. Villages flourished. They loved this land.”Her comments also angered three organizations of Palestinian-Canadian and Jewish-Canadian university professors led by radical University of BC climate justice professor Naomi Klein who argued: “Palestine had a thriving economy, as well as a complex network of trade and commerce which contributed to the economic vibrancy in the region prior to 1948." "Minister Robinson’s comments erase a colonized people’s history, perpetuating historically inaccurate and racist narratives intended to justify Israel’s colonial violence against the Palestinian people.”Given that leftists habitually eat their young when they feel cornered, it is no surprise that Premier Eby quickly said Robinson “crossed the line” because her words were “wrong,” “hurtful,” and “increased divisions among people in our province.”As is commonplace when politicians are accused of “crossing the line” into politically incorrect territory, Robinson quickly posted a fulsome internet apology agreeing her remarks were “disrespectful.”“I want to apologize for my disrespectful comment referring to the origins of Israel on a ‘crappy piece of land.’ I was referring to the fact that the land has limited natural resources. I understand that this flippant comment has caused pain and that it diminishes the connection Palestinians also have to the land,” she wrote.Her critics remained undeterred. More than a dozen BC mosques and Islamic associations issued a joint statement saying that no NDP MLA or candidate for the October provincial election will be welcome in their “sacred spaces,” until Premier Eby fires Robinson.But being flippant, disrespectful and causing pain are not the same as fabricating lies or distorting the truth. Since Robinson did not repudiate the content of her remarks, it's worth reviewing whether they or those of her critics have any historical accuracy.In 1880, before Zionist-inspired immigration began and the area was still under Ottoman Turk rule, Palestine’s Jewish population numbered only about 25,000, many or most of them direct descendants of its Old Testament inhabitants.The first aliyah (return of Zionism-motivated Jews to their ancestral homeland) between 1882 and 1903 brought 20,000 to 30,000 Russians fleeing Czarist pogroms. Migration to the Promised Land over the next several decades ebbed and flowed. Then the rise of antisemitism and Nazism in Germany saw a dramatic increase in immigration: between 1932 and 1939 alone, Palestine absorbed 247,000 newcomers, nearly half of all Jewish emigration from Europe, a clue to the ability of the area to absorb this number of new people.This clue is grounded in historical facts: for centuries before that, Palestine was a sparsely populated, poorly cultivated and widely-neglected expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes. When Mark Twain visited in 1867, for example, he described it as: “... [a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds — a silent mournful expanse""A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action... We never saw a human being on the whole route... There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”This sounds very much like “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”During the 1875 Annual General Meeting of the British-based Palestine Exploration Fund, the oldest known organization in the world created specifically for the study of the Levant region, the Earl of Shaftesbury said of Palestine, “We have there a land teeming with fertility and rich in history, but almost without an inhabitant — a country without a people, and look! Scattered over the world, a people (the Jews) without a country.”This sounds like the region “didn’t produce an economy. It couldn’t grow things. It didn’t have anything on it,” including many people.As late as 1880, the American consul in Jerusalem reported the area was continuing its historic decline. “The population and wealth of Palestine has not increased during the last forty years,” he said.The Report of the Palestine Royal Commission quotes an account of the Maritime Plain in 1913: “The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts... no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached the Jewish village of Yabna (Yavne). "Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen... The ploughs used were of wood... The yields were very poor... The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist... The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert.""The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants.”Again, this sounds like a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it.” So much also for Charlie Angus’ statement that “villages flourished.”Around the same time, Lewis French, the British Director of Development, wrote of Palestine: “We found it inhabited by fellahin (agricultural workers and landless peasant farmers)who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria.""Large areas ... were uncultivated... The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbor these and other criminals. The individual plots ... changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin’s lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbors, the Bedouin.”This sounds like a region mired in crime and poverty.What became British Mandated Palestine in the early 1920s had approximately 532,000 residents in 1890. Contrary to Laith Sarhan’s assertion, this was surely a virtually terra nullius of 54 people per square mile. Compare that to today’s 15-million population of the same region — a 28-fold increase in 100 years — an explosion in growth and development attributable to several Jewish aliyahs.Also unknown to Robinson’s detractors, even people unsympathetic to the Zionist cause believed the Jews would improve the condition of Palestinian Arabs. For example, Dawood Barakat, editor of the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, wrote, “It is absolutely necessary that an entente be made between the Zionists and Arabs, because the war of words can only do evil. The Zionists are necessary for the country: The money which they will bring, their knowledge and intelligence and the industriousness which characterizes them will contribute without doubt to the regeneration of the country.”As other Arab leaders predicted, the modern flourishing of Palestine and the growth of its population came only after Jews returned in massive numbers, attracting large-scale migration from other Arab regions in their wake. The Jewish population increased by 470,000 between the First World War and Second World War, while the non-Jewish population rose by 588,000. In fact, the permanent Arab population increased by 120% between 1922 and 1947 to more than 1.3 million, thanks largely to the effects of Jewish immigration.The overarching system of land occupation in Palestine between 1516 and 1918 under the colonial rule of the Ottoman Turks saw few fellahin owning the land they worked. Indeed, the extent of privately owned property for all classes of people was limited and usually only found in the old cities or in well-established garden areas.When the British assumed control over Palestine at the end of 1917 with the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, they applied the Ottoman Land Code of 1858 to all inhabitants:“The Ottoman Land Code inherited by the British prescribed that houses were mostly privately owned and called "mulk land" (land vested fully and completely to their owners,) while land was viewed as miri (allotted by the state to a village or number of villages and which cannot be private property of individuals,) and is only leased to the tenants of indefinite duration, in which the lease is represented by the obligation to pay land taxes and land registry fees. When the miri interest is alienated, the ultimate ownership … is retained by the State.”Many wealthier Arab landowners willingly sold some because of their migration to coastal towns or because they needed money to invest in the citrus industry.In short, most ordinary rural Palestinians were barely more in control of the farmland they worked than landless British serfs centuries earlier. So much for Charlie Angus’ claim “They loved this land.”The Arab population also grew because of the improved living conditions created by the Jews as they drained malarial swamps and brought improved sanitation and health care to the region. For example, the Muslim infant mortality rate fell from 201 per thousand in 1925 to 94 per thousand in 1945, and life expectancy rose from 37 years in 1926 to 49 in 1943.Overall, on the eve of Israel’s statehood in 1948, the Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza were better off than they had ever been in the millennia-long history of the region.All this quickly changed. The violent rejection of Israeli independence by neighbouring Arab countries saw 10 wars against the Jewish state, including the one started on October 7.This is why Charlie Angus’ reference to the “horrific violence” now being “inflicted on Palestinians” and Klein’s assertion of “colonial violence against the Palestinian people” have no relevance to Robinson’s take on the pre-Zionist early Zionist history of the region.More important, the current violence Israel’s critics keep railing against is entirely the fault of Hamas, the terrorist organization ruling Gaza that habitually uses its own people as human shields in its genocidal efforts to drive the Jews of Israel into the Mediterranean Sea, clearly revealed by its October 7 genocidal invasion.The result of all these wars has been the current impoverishment of the Palestinians, a process that accelerated in 2007, the year Hamas took control of Gaza. Conversely, had Israeli statehood been accepted in 1948, the Palestinians might now be among the most prosperous Arabs in the Middle East.The university professors led by Klein need to acknowledge that the Jews were behind the “complex network of trade and commerce which contributed to the economic vibrancy in the region prior to 1948,” eventually turning a formerly desolate and nearly empty land into a densely populated and wealthy oasis — a resurrected Garden of Eden — in the desert.Unfortunately, none of this history matters because truth is always the first casualty of war. This explains why dozens of angry protesters gathered outside an NDP caucus retreat in Surrey, BC, Monday morning where they delivered a petition, claiming it had 11,000 signatures, calling for Robinson to be removed as a government minister.Seemingly desperate to keep her position, Robinson issued a second apology promising to take anti-Islamophobia training while admitting she now understood that her remarks contributed to “Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism and perpetuated harmful narratives of colonialism that caused pain to indigenous communities.”The contents of this second apology are highly problematic: Robinson made no mention of religion or the Palestinians in her original statement and indigenous people and the Palestinians have nothing in common except that both are considered downtrodden groups.Moreover, the people now called Palestinians were colonized not by Jews but by the Ottoman Turks, Great Britain, Jordan and Egypt for 451 years between 1516 and 1967, respectively. Contrary to Klein et al’s assertion, apart from the fact that Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, colonialism has no applicability to Israel because its Jews have age-old ancestral ties to the land: it’s where they originated and it’s the land from which they were exiled. Colonization does not exist when exiles return to their homeland.As for Robinson, saying sorry and promising to repent are never enough when the long knives are drawn and sharpened. Monday afternoon, Premier Eby, surely also keen to save his own hide in an upcoming election in a province with tens of thousands more Muslim and aboriginal voters than Jewish ones, told a hastily arranged news conference that her “belittling remarks” were incompatible with her remaining in cabinet so it was “agreed” she would give up her ministerial post.The only voice of reason in this sordid mess came from Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, who called the departure of Robinson “shocking.”“I think at a time when the intimidation of Jewish students on campus is as high as it's ever been, to see a Jewish minister of advanced education stepping down sends really a chill down my spine. It's obviously a very, very shocking thing to see, especially after Minister Robinson was apologetic and also came up with a plan for reconciliation,” he said.He could well have added that when it comes to Palestinian and indigenous issues, only barefaced lies and the callous disposal of colleagues can save politicians, especially so-called progressive ones, from the same unhappy fate.Hymie Rubenstein, a retired professor of anthropology, the University of Manitoba, is editor of REAL Israel & Palestine Report and REAL Indigenous Report.